You've read all the business articles concerning the qualities of a leader. But when it comes time to take the stage, this is the #1 skill you need to speak for leadership.
Do you speak for leadership?
The answer to that question—whatever your job title—is an unequivocal 'Yes.'
That's because when you take the stage, whether it's in that small conference room at the office or a giant convention hall, you're in the position of a leader. You are literally leading the audience on the journey you've all just embarked upon. Whether your topic concerns grand strategy or the mundane items your team needs to focus on this week, it's now your job to lead the way.
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To do this well, with all the credibility and authority you need to muster, there's one skill you must demonstrate more than any other. Like every good performance, however, it's not as simple as it looks. That's because this skill calls upon other areas of dynamic public speaking.
But if you get this one "umbrella" ability right, you'll be on a direct path to demonstrating that you're a speaker listeners should pay attention to and believe. You might say that it's all about broadcasting leadership.
The attribute I'm talking about is control.
For Us to Believe, You Need to Look Confident
Nothing breeds confidence from an audience's point of view like a speaker who looks the part. By that, I mean the presenter who displays easy authority, and who takes a talk in exactly the direction—and at the pace—that he or she wants it to go.
This is a thought I try to instill in my clients who suffer from fear of public speaking. But it is sound advice for anyone who speaks, whether they're fearful of the encounter or revel in it. If you offer no room for doubt in our minds concerning your ability to speak on this topic, well, there isn't likely to be any.
Our thinking goes like this: "She's totally in control. There's no doubt whatsoever that she knows this topic, she's totally prepared, and clearly has something to offer that I should pay attention to. And she's obviously enjoying herself, or she wouldn't look so at ease up there."
When a speaker demonstrates that level of control, we're convinced early on that we are in good hands. That means we can relax and enjoy what's about to come. The speaker who seems to be controlled by the situation, however, raises red flags that interfere with our willingness to believe and be influenced. As an actor, I use a theatrical comparison: Good actors use props (partly to reveal aspects of their character); while bad actors (because they're uncomfortable with the item they are handling) are used by the prop.
5 Ways to Control Your Talk to Show Leadership
You don't have to summon this level of control out of thin air and miraculously demonstrate it, however. Here are five practical ways you can show that you mean business and you know how to speak for leadership.
Breathing: If you've experienced the loss of control that comes with fear, anxiety, or extreme discomfort, you know that it usually announces itself by rapid and shallow breathing. This change in your respiration is immediately apparent to you, of course, and quickly dissipates any sense that you're in control. Losing control of one's breath is a prescription for feeling and looking ill at ease on stage—the opposite of a habit of command. So practice techniques for calm and controlled breathing.
Messaging: Public speaking is never about delivering information; it's always about using information to bring about a positive change in listeners. For that to happen, audiences need to be clear on what you're telling them. That means thinking carefully about how your message unfurls, being clear on each specific item and how they come together as a whole. Don't make the mistake of turning on the fire hose and blasting it out nonstop. Invest yourself fully in each segment of your talk, and use transitions to show how they are all related.
Pace: Did you ever try to eat a 12" pizza in one bite? Of course not. But many speakers seem to be asking that impossible feat of listeners. You've attended an untold number of presentations like this: data is thrown your way point after point with no pauses in between. Either the speaker is anxious to get it all over with, or he's unconcerned with what's happening in his audience's minds. Either way, speaking like this is fatal to comprehension and retention! Interestingly, the same amount of information will be absorbed if you simply pace your talk, giving listeners time to chew and digest that 'data slice' before the next one comes their way. Pacing your presentation, then, is a sometimes subtle but essential element of control.
Creating Silence: You ignore one of your most powerful tools of control when you neglect silence in public speaking. Actors understand that silence on stage can be a thunderclap, and making that choice at the right moment can work the same way for you. But it doesn't need to be that dramatic. Audiences require pauses the way a traveler in the desert needs an oasis: as an opportunity for cool refreshment. In my practice, I play with that metaphor a bit more: I tell clients that a pause is an opportunity for your audience to hit the refresh button in their brain. After an important point, to transition between segments, or to create anticipation and interest in what's coming—these are ways to demonstrate control through the power of the pause.
Using the Stage: If you want to demonstrate that you're a leader who's totally in control of your presentation, use the stage itself as your performance arena. Few speakers do this well, including those who prowl the stage frantically rather than strategically. As a leader, the stage is yours to command—and you are remiss if you don't use it that way. Can you think of a better way to show you're in command than to use the space that's available to amplify your message? Readers of this blog know that I advocate staking out a portion of the stage for each main segment of your talk, and making sure your introduction and conclusion are "Down-Center," the strongest stage position.
Control your speeches and presentations with these techniques, and we'll accept that you're the right person to lead the way. All the better for all of us to start, and enjoy, the journey.
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